The natural friendship between science and spirituality


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Presentation given by David Brett Richardson of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley's Personal Theology series, December 4, 2011. Uploaded here with his permission.

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The natural friendship between science and spirituality

  1. 1. The Natural Friendship between Science and Spirituality David Brett Richardson
  2. 2. 2003-2004: The Hubble Ultra Deep Field Experiment Over four months, the Hubble Space telescope captured images from a tiny, dark region in space (a region about the size of a pencil point held at arm’s length).
  3. 3. Over 10,000 GALAXIES comprised of BILLIONS and BILLIONS of Stars (and how many Earth-like planets?)
  4. 4. ZOOMING IN On small region of the Ultra Deep Field data
  5. 5. Spiral Galaxy UDF 423: est. 7.7 billion light years away
  6. 6. Spiral Galaxy UDF 423 compared with an artist’s conception of our own Milky Way Galaxy* *(which is estimated to have 200 billion to 400 billion stars) (relative sizes of the two galaxies not known) UDF 423 MILKY WAY (artist’s conception)
  7. 8. Einstein: The “Cosmic Religious Feeling”
  8. 9. (Published in the New York Times, Nov. 9, 1930) ... there is a third stage of religious experience ... even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. ... I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. … A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
  9. 10. The Kalama Sutta Of the Buddhist Tradition "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.… But after [your own] observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it…”
  10. 11. The “Warfare between Science & Religion” is not universal! This “warfare” is a peculiar characteristic of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions The Hindu-Buddhist traditions suggest a cycle of Universal creation & destructions that runs in increments of over 300 TRILLION years! Chinese science (astronomy, mathematics, physics, invention) flourished in the Confucian & Taoist traditions of China Ancient Greek religion laid the foundations for Mathematics, Astronomy, & Physics, and even anticipated evolutionary theory!
  11. 12. "Who knows for certain? Who shall here declare it? Whence was it born, whence came creation? The gods are later than this world's formation; Who then can know the origins of the world? "None knows whence creation arose; And whether he has or has not made it, He who surveys it from the lofty skies, Only he knows – or perhaps he knows not.“ -- Rig Veda X:129 (quoted by Carl Sagan)
  12. 13. A Fallacy we must avoid! <ul><li>Specific limitations or faults of specific religious traditions do not constitute a critique of Spirituality in general! </li></ul><ul><li>Human spirituality is a far greater region of experience & inquiry than any specific path of any specific culture, place, or time. </li></ul>
  13. 14. <ul><li>“ You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.” </li></ul><ul><li>- Einstein: His Life and Universe, </li></ul><ul><li>by Walter Isaacson, p. 390 </li></ul>
  14. 15. Toward a Science of Spirituality <ul><li>Aldous Huxley: “The Perennial Philosophy” (Leibniz: “Philosophia Perennis”) </li></ul><ul><li>We seek the “highest common factor” of all human religious traditions </li></ul><ul><li>We also recognize that each tradition may make unique contributions </li></ul><ul><li>We proceed in a spirit of humility in the face of the limitations of our knowledge </li></ul>
  15. 16. Happily, the collaboration between Science and Spirituality is well under way…
  16. 17. Meditation & Neuroscience Matthieu Ricard Ph.D. degree in molecular genetics at the Institut Pasteur Son of the noted French philosopher son of the late Jean-François Revel Practicing Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition Dubbed the &quot;happiest person in the world&quot; by some popular media (based on study performed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison's on happiness) Extensively studied using MRI and other brain-scanning technologies
  17. 18. Meditation & Neuroscience MRI scans: out of hundreds of volunteers whose scores ranged from +0.3 (very anxious) to -0.3 (beatific) Ricard scored -0.45 Psychologist Paul Ekman investigated the magnitude of Ricard’s startle reflex in response to loud, unexpected sounds. Of all subjects he has test, Ricard was the only one who had almost no detectable startle reflex when meditating.
  18. 19. Meditation & Neuroscience It seems that hardly a month goes by that some new study doesn’t show the psychological and/or physical benefits of Meditation. Books like Zen and the Brain (by James H. Austin, M.D.) – once somewhat rare – have become quite common.
  19. 20. Social Science & Spirituality Among humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “16 Characteristics of Self-Actualizers” (maximally mentally healthy persons) we find: #8: Most of them have had profound mystical or spiritual experiences, although not necessarily religious in character.
  20. 21. Social Science & Spirituality The developing field of “Positive Psychology” investigates (among other things) the connection between happiness and spirituality. Multiple studies have suggested that spiritual beliefs and practices can augment human well-being (though some of these are controversial)
  21. 22. Future Thought & Spirituality Some futurist thinkers envision a time when the distinction between spirit and matter will disappear. Ray Kurzweil envisions “the waking up of the Universe” Such thinkers often arrive at conclusions similar to mystical process thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin (the “Omega Point”) and India’s Sri Aurobindo
  22. 23. Future Thought & Spirituality “ Any sufficiently advanced technology is .. indistinguishable from MAGIC.” - Arthur C. Clarke’s “Third Law” (my emphasis) “ Any sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence .. is indistinguishable from God.” - Michael Shermer’s “Last Law” “ It’s highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures. It’s very important to understand that these Gods came into being by an explicable scientific progression of incremental evolution.” – Professor Richard Dawkins (NY Times, September 19, 2011)
  23. 24. A Special Case: the Near Death Experience Raymond Moody’s 1975 book “Life After Life” examined the phenomenon of “near death experiences.” Thousands of subsequent near death experiences have been studied, and features common to these experiences are well known. What is perhaps more interesting is the life-transforming character of some of these experiences.
  24. 25. A Special Case: the Near Death Experience Though many aspects of the “near death experience” admit of materialist explanation, the “veridical” near death experience – an experience in which the patient claims to have seen things from a perspective outside the body – is of some special interest. Dr. Sam Parnia (M.D.) of Southampton University in the UK has devised a test of these “veridical” experiences. The “Aware Study” is the name given to this inquiry. Results are due early next year.
  25. 26. A Special Case: the Near Death Experience Though many aspects of the “near death experience” admit of materialist explanation, the “veridical” near death experience – an experience in which the patient claims to have seen things from a perspective outside the body – is of some special interest. Dr. Sam Parnia (M.D.) of Southampton University in the UK has devised a test of these “veridical” experiences. The “Aware Study” is the name given to this inquiry. Results are due early next year.
  26. 27. Science & Spirituality: the Spirit of Cooperation <ul><li>Honest humility in light of the limitations of our knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Mutual respect for the thoughts and beliefs of others </li></ul><ul><li>Willingness to keep multiple (including contrary) hypotheses “alive” simultaneously; willingness to choose a “working hypothesis” without closing the door on other possibilities </li></ul>
  27. 28. The most important three words in science? “I don’t know” Neuroscientist David Eagleman has created the word “possibilianism” for an attitude in which we acknowledge the limitations of our knowledge and keep multiple hypotheses alive. He suggests that the three most important words in science are “ I don’t know ”
  28. 29. Humility in the face of the limitations of our knowledge The Buddha, Socrates, Descartes, and David Hume have all emphasized the importance of realizing the limits of human knowledge.
  29. 31. “ Maybe Logic” Robert Anton Wilson suggests the world would be a better place if we preceded our dogmatic statements with the word “maybe”: “ Maybe Jesus is the Son of God.” “ Maybe the Koran is the Revelation of Allah.” “ Maybe there is no life after death.” “ Maybe science can explain everything without reference to the spiritual.
  30. 32. Science & Spirituality: the Spirit of Cooperation <ul><li>To our atheist and materialist sisters and brothers: </li></ul><ul><li>May we retire the ineffectual tool of ridicule and needless harshness toward those who have a spiritual or agnostic worldview </li></ul><ul><li>May we see that we can work together to “heal the world”: we should be on the same team! </li></ul><ul><li>May we honor the natural friendship that can exist and should exist between Science and the spiritual traditions of Humankind. </li></ul>
  31. 33. “ The astrolabe of the Mysteries of God is Love” Jalal-uddin Rumi May all sentient beings find happiness!
  32. 34. David B. Richardson: D B [email_address] May Compassion be our Compass!